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Belles Soeurs (Beaux Freres) Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 and Late Night with Bob Dylan

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

After the reasonably exquisite Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Evenstad Reserve 2003 (tasting notes in previous post), a Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 was poured. In general, across most vintages, I find their wines mades from outsourced grapes from Shea Vineyard to be more complete ventures than Beaux Freres’ Estate-specific cuvées (Beaux Freres Vineyard, Upper Terrace), though I have yet to encounter an uninteresting wine that bears the name. I have read about, but have yet to taste their tiny production Upper Terrace Grenache, and I would be more than happy to accept tasting samples, to be discussed here on WineGeist, judiciously and impartially.

I’m listening to “Mr. Tambourine Man” as performed by its composer, Bob Dylan, at the Hollywood Bowl, September 2, 1965. I know Dylan gets a lot of air time here, but that was the track that came up on the full library shuffle, just then, as I started the sentence; it’s still playing now. It’s true that I’ve been staring at the incomplete line, “I’m listening to…” for a couple of dozen songs, but that’s neither here nor there and Dylan is inspiring. And that song in particular, “Mr. Tambourine Man” is a big one in an unparalleled body of work, not to mention being the second part of the Good Doctor‘s dedication preceding Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas: “-and to Bob Dylan, for Mister Tambourine Man“. Dylan wrote that one in ’65 and in the same year it was recorded by The Byrds and released as their first single for Columbia Records, which reached #1 on US and UK charts. Unrelated, I was told, not that long ago, “It takes a lot of Dylan to make a nice Syrah.” But today, we’re discussing Oregon Pinot.

The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 wafts immediately of cedar and raw meat, and is dark in the glass, knocking on the door of deep purple. Visually, it’s almost unreasonably concentrated for the varietal and most definitely for the vintage. The vast majority of 2000 OR Pinot Noir, even the very good ones are a little thin in the middle, as if too much water was interjected at a major stage of growth, and the grapes partied like it was 1999, resulting in flimsier fruit. Ironically enough, the grapes of 1999 were far more studious and the wines released from that vintage continue to age well. Even the normally highly concentrated Beaux Freres wines are a little soft, a little light on character, in 2000, including this one whose palate is not so brooding as the color. The only recently tasted examples to the contrary for 2000 OR Pinot are Ken Wright Pinot Noir, Shea and McCrone Vineyard bottles. But back to the ’00 Belles Soeurs Shea: the palate displays cool damp earth, ash, as well as some vegetal characterists and green pepper. There’s a nice mid-palate dryness, but the body seems to drop off there, making for a shorter experience. That being said, there exist notes of espresso bean, anise, and prune as well as overripe raspberry and a dusty, silty finish. The Belles Soeurs Pinot Noir Shea Vineyard 2000 is a highly palatable wine, but it’s a little thin for its pedigree, and is likely at the back end of its drinking plateau. Remaining bottles will be enjoyed in the near future, rather than returned to the cellar.

Rutherford Hill Port 1986 and God Bless Warren Zevon (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 5)

July 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Looking pretty sharp at 25 years.

The wine I was most excited to open with that glorious cheese selection from Bedford Cheese Shop was a Rutherford Hill Vintage Port 1986. I’m a big fan of high quality US dessert wines and this is one of the most port-like “Ports” I’ve ever encountered. There are an enormous amount of fabulous stickies bottled not only up and down the west coast, but sweet white is one of the few things they’ve been getting right in parts of New York for a long time. Often batches of California dessert wine are pet projects of wineries known for other things and production is often so small that if you don’t specifically ask, you’d never know they existed. I often come across such small batch wines in collection and consignment offers, which was how I originally discovered the dessert wines of Williams Selyem and Shafer. Over the years Phelps has produced a number of beautiful stickies such that I can recommend you purchase and taste just about any one you can find.

Warren Zevon‘s posthumous Preludes: Rare and Unreleased shuffles up on the itunes and I remember how much one can miss a guy he never met. Preludes is made up of selections from the tapes that Zevon’s son, Jordan, found in an old suicase, shortly after Zevon’s death. Warren Zevon was one of the great American storytellers and these earliest recordings show just how good he already was early on in his career, though on the charmingly raw version of “Carmelita,” it’s clear that guitar was his (distant) second instrument, to the piano, at which he was masterful. The previously unreleased “Rosartita Beach Café” sounds like something he might have written after a minor bender with Hunter Thompson, but I’m fairly certain they hadn’t yet met and become friends. “Rosartita Beach Café” was torn from the same moment as “Desperados Under the Eaves,” the version of which resides on Preludes is crushing. For my music listening dollar, it doesn’t really get any better. And the next glass is raised to Warren Zevon.

After hours of breathing, there’s still a solid alcoholic bite to the Rutherford Hill Port 1986, but the palate is broader and brambly, unquestionably lush, and surprisingly grapey for it’s age. It’s a big wine and age hasn’t taken that away. It’s thick with chocolate and black pepper, wild herbs, wintergreen, and a hint of caramelized sugar. This is a wine that would have worked as well with a rich flourless chocolate cake as it does with the various cheeses. It would be a crime on one level, but this ’86 Rutherford Hill Port would make a stunning reduction for a world-class marbled cut of beef. And damned if sipping it doesn’t make me want one of my 10-12 annual cigars; Montecristo #5 please, if anybody’s running to the shop… in Havana, or Montreal, or Mexico City, or Paris, or Amsterdam, or Moscow, or Zagreb

Epilogue: Beautiful as it was that evening, thanks to my trusty vacu vin, the ’86 Rutherford Hill Port was drinking even better the next day and the rest of the week, once the alcohol integrated had properly integrated.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 and Songs from the Tin Shed (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 4)

July 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Bottle shown here is 2008.

T-Vine Zinfandel Napa 1999 was the next in the ever darkening wine lineup. This one is fairly big and is ideally suited for the rich [Bedford] cheese [Shop] plate, also standing its ground against the accompanying cured and thinly sliced meats. First, a vintage note: 1999 is an underrated vintage for much of CA (as well as for Bordeaux). So many different varieties of wines originating from Santa Barbara to Bolinas are fairing far better than their ’98 and ’00 counterparts and represent a significant value over the much hyped (and excellent) ’97 and ‘01/’02 vintages flanking them. As for Bordeaux, 1999 represents the last solid vintage to still occasionally be available at a significant price break from every vintage that has come since (minus the much maligned 2002), and they are aging beautifully.

Up on the itunes, the shuffle finds our ears flooded with the twangy strings and lush harmonies of Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band) & Chris Castino‘s (The Big Wu) Songs From the Tin Shed (2004), from the pre-master recording. The music ranges from Sad Cowboy to Hillbilly, the tone from wistful to joyous, and includes a small handful of well placed covers amongst the majority original tunes by Austin and Castino. While Songs From the Tin Shed is far less known than the records (and live shows) of Yonder Mountain String Band or The Big Wu, the quality of its execution and heights of its sincerity will continue find its way to and delight ears- with a propensity toward twang- for generations.

Back to our regularly scheduled program:
T-Vine Napa Zinfandel 1999 is toward the shallow end of full bodied in color with a broad mouthfeel and long lingering acidity. There’s a piney sweetness and something ruggedly floral, like the unlikely offspring of a honeysuckle and some mutant wild thistle. This wine both grows in depth and softens in mouthfeel as another hour of air expands its horizons. T-Vine continues to quietly make very serious small batch wine in a number of varietals, both blends and single vineyards, including the recent addition of a Grenache from the incomparable Paras Vineyard. If you have not already, T-Vines is highly worth looking (and tasting!) into.

Sean Thackrey Pleiades 1992 and What Happened to Beck?! (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 3)

July 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Sean Thackrey Pleiades Old Vines 1992 is an unusual wine, even by Sean Thackrey standards. Thackrey is a self-taught winemaker who borrows many of his techniques from the most ancient texts on the matter, of which he has the foremost collection, which Thackrey continues to slowly translate and post to his website. Pleiades is his lowest cost release and contains different percentages of different varietals every year, often from different vintages.

Parker and I agree on one thing: the old label was cooler.

Beck’s never released demo, Don’t Get Bent Outta Shape (1992), comes over the itunes and harkens back to that glorious decade (’92-’02) before his records started to suck. A Sea Change indeed. Then on to One Foot in the Grave, Beck’s lowest-fi official release, recorded largely on a 4-track and a delightfully out of tune Silvertone guitar. This was also recorded in ’92, but was released in ’94 after Mellow Gold and its big single “Loser” brought Beck instantly to the mainstream.

I’m not saying one can’t *like* Beck’s new stuff (Guero and everything since). It’s certainly snappy and catchy and it’s easy to do the robot to, but he was a decade late on that whole video game sounds thing. The best of Beck’s new stuff sounds like tracks that might have remained on the cutting room floor during the Midnight Vultures sessions in lieu of the weightier cuts that made that album real. Conversely, what made Beck’s previous stuff so great was that it was deep and rich (lyrically and sonically), but had the pop sensibility to appeal to the radio and its spoon-fed surface listeners.

Sean Thackrey Pleiades ’92 is the only example I was able to locate of Thackrey blending this wine from numerous varietals of the same vintage. Pleiades is a wine that is not only different every vintage, but can vary greatly bottle to bottle, particularly with age as this is a wine meant to be consumed in its youth. This one displays a touch of oxidation, but is by no means turned. It’s denser, with a more syrah-like chewiness than other bottles from the same case. It’s softer, chocolatey, half way to a colheita three times its age. In the glass, the wine is red/brown, tapering to clear watery edge and of medium body (light by Thackrey standards). It shows fall earth, ash, red berries, dry cigar tobacco, and leather. The large perplexing nose is almost Burgundian, but denser, saltier, and with a touch of menthol. The palate is unearthly smoky, like a long lived Gigondas with a ghost of eucalyptus on the finish. Sean Thackrey Pleiades ’92 is full and broad of mouthfeel, but the fruit has receded almost entirely leaving pepper and cumin nearer the topnote than ever was intended. While these ’92s are in the twilight of their years, the non-vintage Pleiades XIV through XVIII are drinking beautifully right now. I’m not sure a more interesting wine exists, at the price point.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir and the Beatles at Budokan ‘66 (Tasting on Shuffle Pt. 1)

June 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Over a selection of tasty cheeses, meats, olives, and accoutrement from the Bedford Cheese shop, including an irresistible bliss in the form of a triple crème called Pierre Robert (thanks Chef Jacqueline!), a series of well aged wines were tasted. During this luxurious palate exercise the mp3 library played of a many generations old imac that still lives, by some act of G(Steve Jobs)D, functioning solely as a jukebox of randomness and a DVD player. Notes on the wine and music consumed begin now:

2 Generations of label ago.

Ken Wright Pinot Noir Carter Vineyard 1997 is deep, but softening garnet. Just as a touch of purple seems to appear in the center, the nose emerges and the olfactory overtakes the thinking mechanism. Is this a high pedigree Gevrey Chambertin? The most successful expressions of Oregon grapes, such as this one, taste like their own corner of that land in a way that the finest Frenchman with the finest palate for Burgundy will never understand.

And it never ceases to amaze me what one can acquire in a few Google searches and a few minutes of time, as the Beatles live at Budokan ‘66, rises from the speakers, pre-pubecent screams first. It’s unbelievable to be able to hear the greatest band of all time at such a formative formative stage, audio problems, vocal slips, and all. The shrieking really is intense though, almost deafening at times and indesciminant. My mom was a huge Beatles fan as a kid and saw the them a couple of times. She loved the music, but didn’t understand the screaming, and was disappointed at how little she could hear of the music over the spastic shrill din. Perhaps this is why I’ve always taken such joy when Mike Doughty or Jeff Tweedy berates an audience that pays the ticket price to aggressively not listen. There really should be a constitutional amendment banning the yelling of ‘Freebird’ in all music venues across this great land.

The ’97 Ken Wright pinot Noir Carter Vineyard continues to waft singular moments of the Pacific Northwest into the room. The nose is huge and the palate deep: wet earth, damp embers, and a little sea air, on a thick humid morning. In the glass, there’s smoke, soft earth, and tobacco. It’s subtly floral (violets?), fresh herbs, terragon, fennel fronds, and there’s something ¾ of the way down the road to eucalyptus. The wine has a very long finish, for an American Pinot Noir if its age, and the empty glass continues to echo that glorious nose. I have never met a Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and this one ranks high up in greater pantheon of American wine.

Andrew Bird, The Jack of Hearts, and DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997

June 28, 2011 Leave a comment

DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997 is yet another example of a reasonably priced old vine CA zinfandel that proves what an underrated varietal it is for aging. While it’s almost cheating to bring up Ridge– well-known makers of some of the finest aging zin that’s ever been bottled- a ’94 Ridge Geyserville was once the crowd favorite at a tasting I held of CA heavyweights and I have been an advocate ever since. This DeLoach OFS ’97 (a growing season of high yields and excellent quality) was deliberately made in a more traditional style that the winery had retreated from in the mid-’80s in attempts to produce a younger drinking crowd-pleasinger bottle. The timing couldn’t have been better meteorologically and what remains today is braving the years with fortitude.

Another compelling iphone 3G pic.

While getting to know this bottle of DeLoach Zinfandel OFS 1997, I’m listening to an entire itunes library on shuffle, the one on a decade-old imac, which once ran the office of my defunct publishing company, but now only functions as a jukebox and DVD player. I’ll skip the gratuitous Dylan reference today even though the alternate (original) version of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” is just fading out. On however to Andrew Bird, “Tables and Chairs” off of his breakthrough album, Andrew Bird & The Mysterious Production of Eggs. It’s a heavy-minded, light-hearted, off-kilter glimpse of a post-apocalyptic playground: think Fight Club meets SpongeBob, aesthetically. Individually, the lyrics and spritely flowing orchestration of the melody are more than minor paradoxes. Together they make up a textural menagerie that’s like the structure of a Beach Boys tune (sad lyrics over happy music) with a head full of DMT. The beauty of Andrew Bird’s best work- which is most of it- is that one can get lost in the music alone, which is crushing when one ponders the depths of his stories. This is why Andrew Bird has been my platonic man-crush ever since Beck‘s records started to suck; a Sea Change indeed.

For an inexpensive wine, this ’97 DeLoach Zinfandel OFS, with proper aging and now a decent amount of air in it, is still as weighty as one might imagine, but it’s got a supple roundness to it that is more than what could have been hoped for, and depth to spare. There’s been some softening, visually, and of the raspberry and cherry, which make up the majority of this wines fruit profile, but it is not yet thin in the middle. Not relenting are the pronounced cedar, pine tar, dry forest floor, hearty herbs- rosemary, and a touch of menthol, hanging down around the 14.5% alcohol, which will always be present. For a non-luxury (industry code for ‘over-priced’) cuvee, this wine over delivers, but that’s part of the magic of old vine CA fruit, particularly from a banner vintage.